The Heads of Training at the world’s four largest manufacturers of commercial passenger aircraft have created an alliance to address common concerns about pilot training. CAT Editor-in-Chief Rick Adams recently interviewed the Founder and President of the AMFTA, Jean-Michel Bigarré, and Assistant Secretary Susannah Crabol in Toulouse, France.

When you hear the names Airbus, Boeing, COMAC and Embraer, you immediately think of the rivalries, the fierce competition, sometimes fought in world courts, for sales, market share, dominance, profits.

You don’t necessarily think of collaboration and common objectives.

Until you put it in the context of safety.

“Everyone’s main goal is safety; there’s no debate about it,” said Susannah Crabol, who is also Flight Crew Training Strategic Portfolio Manager for Airbus Services. “I think the fact that we are talking with Heads of Training, and also being pilots, where we understand the huge impact training has on flight safety, there’s a different understanding.”

“Training shouldn’t be a place where we compete,” said Jean-Michel Bigarré.

The current Directors of the Aircraft Manufacturers Flight Training Association (AMFTA) are Bigarré, previously Head of Worldwide Training for Airbus Training Services; Mark Albert, Director, Business and Program Management, Commercial Training Solutions, Boeing Global Services (Treasurer); Capt. Jin Yibin, Chief Engineer of Aircraft Operation Safety, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC); Capt. Fabiano Cypel, Embraer Flight Crew Training Manager; Capt. Stéphan Labrucherie, Airbus Head of Flight Training Worldwide (Chairman); and Crabol.

The idea for an OEM alliance focused on flight training was born out of a desire to effect safety-related changes more quickly. “We realized that between the time we detect something and the solution, the timeframe was quite long. And it was also not harmonised between the various regulators,” explained Bigarré.

So a fundamental tenet of AMFTA is to act quickly. “We need to keep the agility of this community,” Bigarré told CAT. “That is why the Board does not have a lot of people. Only the Head of Training of each manufacturer.”

But at the same time, the Board can draw on the global resources of hundreds of thousands of employees. “This is the beauty of our community,” Bigarré emphasised. “The Heads of Training do their homework with all their team, which is a lot of people on the back. When they are on the table, they have the capacity to represent and decide.”

The ultimate objective of the association is to make united, consensus recommendations for improvements to pilot training to aviation regulatory agencies worldwide, or to industry working groups which may include regulators.

Standing Wingtip to Wingtip

A critical element is that the OEMs will be making their recommendations in concert. One would expect their peer-reviewed opinions to carry considerable merit.

“It’s not influencing,” Bigarré cautions. “Our goal is really the opposite. We want all the existing working groups (ICAO, EASA, etc.) to do their work, but at least they have a clear message on what aircraft manufacturers believe.

“When you are in a working group, you have many people. You have the regulators, you have the simulator industry… you have a lot of people. It’s difficult to focus only on the pedagogy of flight training by putting aircraft manufacturer pedagogical specialists around the table. When you participate in a working group, you have to do compromise.

“We have an agile group with a huge workforce in the back, which is each OEM workforce being able to be aligned before going to a working group. In terms of pedagogy, competence, this is the position we believe is good. It facilitates the actual decision-making in the group.”

Bigarré explained the AMFTA deliberative process. “It’s a very strict process. Each member can propose themes. People detect things. We see something which is present. First, do we agree as manufacturers is this a concern, a need? We agree all together, what are the priority ones. And then we create a working group with teams of each aircraft manufacturer involved in order to get the power of the aircraft manufacturers globally.”

The AMFTA working group findings are presented to the Board and voted on. Thus far, all decisions have been unanimous.

“We have only one orientation, which is what will help the aviation community to have the pilot competent at the right time at the right place,” Bigarré stated. “The goal is to support all aviation, to support all industry.”

Resolving Inconsistencies

The OEMs have found, not surprisingly, that when talking with NAAs, “we were not having the same language, despite having the same goal,” the 30-year aviation veteran noted. “When we speak together, French, Chinese, American, we see that the same word doesn’t mean the same thing all the time. We don’t have the same perception.”

Bigarré told CAT, “Everybody is speaking about competence, but more are so much more on the compliance side. Competence is more complex to set up. So the difficulty is how can we guide to really achieve what is good for the pilot? We have a lot of working groups on it today.”

“Some people,” he explained, “think that if you grade a pilot according to the ICAO competence definition, then you are competent. But being competent is far beyond the grading; it is being able to adapt decisions, to move out from the task. And to be able to do this flexibility, you need to spend time to train the instructor. You cannot switch from classical training to an EBT concept in six months or a year.

“We shouldn’t look at the volume of hours of a pilot. What we should look at is the pilot competent to achieve what we are asking of him? A lot of people are tempted by thinking, oh, this was a good year. But this doesn’t work because very often it has been done within a country with consistency. But sometimes its consistency has lost its efficiency due to patches because there’s an accident or something. So we put a patch on this programme and at the end the programme becomes very heavy and it’s more compliance than efficiency.

“If we want to change this, we have to propose regulation, alternate means of compliance. We are going to decrease hours, but this is how we are going to mitigate those hours, and this is the way we can move forward. If you want to address only one piece of change, then you create a new risk. The goal is to address the whole system by a consistent approach which requires the time, expertise, and exposition to the existing world in order to make a proposition which is consistent.

“MPL is a very good concept, but some people push too much on reducing the flight hours, forgetting a lot of competencies that have to be trained like decision-making, situational awareness. CBTA is something wonderful. It’s a very positive turn in pilot training, but it has to be properly managed with one concern: do we get the right competence at the right time?”

Bigarré used a cooking analogy to illustrate. “If my mother cooks, she has a recipe. If I cook, I have the same recipe. We apply exactly the same ingredients. What she did is very good. What I did is alright. Why? Because there is so much know-how, skills, and some which are not easy to write. When I speak about aviation there is too much passion, people feel attacked. So I speak about cooking, and it’s okay.”

It was tagging along from the age of six to his mother’s job at an aerodrome in Muret, France that kindled Bigarré’s interest in aviation, “jumping in an aircraft with people doing club flights.”

“We know there is a different level of training in the world according to many situations – it can be the regulation, the mindset, the culture. Whenever an aircraft is flying, regardless of the location, they need the same pilot competence. So if your ab initio cadet is coming out of college, (he or she) can fly Boeing or Airbus or COMAC or Embraer, a number of aircraft, because the competences are the same.”

Another area under AMFTA discussion is prerequisites. “We can see that according to different NAAs in the world, prerequisites are not homogenous, not the same everywhere,” said Bigarré. “As manufacturers, we are able to say we consider being qualified in a twin-engine or having a multi-crew competence before starting a type rating is necessary, and we will align on this.”

As the group takes on more critical issues or themes with pilot training, it may de facto be laying the foundation for a significant evolution from the present system. “Yes,” Bigarré responded. “We believe there is a need for something which is agile, lighter.”

Building Trust

The OEM flight training collaboration idea has been germinating since before the pandemic, and was officially incorporated two years ago. “Covid obviously slowed things down,” said Crabol (pictured below), “particularly video conference with entities in completely different time zones. But as soon as we started to come out of that we started putting the strategy in place.” 

“It took me a long time to first contact Boeing, to go through, let’s say, obstacles that can be between two competitors, coming together, then contacting COMAC and Embraer with different cultures, different approaches,” Bigarré recalled.

Yet, rather than skepticism, the competitors “were quite happy the initiative was taken because they had the same consciousness that it would be great if we are able to harmonise on things, and they have been helpful in the process.”

However, “It took a while just to create the trust between everyone for having a transparent dialogue with one unique goal, which is safety.”

What is more complex, Crabol added, is to make the cooperation connections functional within big companies – “administration, legal, and all the things around. But the people were all convinced very quickly and supportive of this approach.”

“Everyone is being nice, motivated, and being totally neutral,” Bigarré said. “Very aviation safety-minded.”

AMFTA recommendations, which are expected to begin flowing in the new year, will be made available on as well as to regulators. “There’s nothing for us to hide,” noted Crabol. “It’s there in the public interest.”

A Board with Deep Aviation Training Experience

Capt. Jean-Michel Bigarré, AMFTA Founder & President - Jean-Michel draws upon 30 years’ experience in aviation and flight training. Previously, Jean-Michel was Head of Flight Training Worldwide and VP Training and Flight Ops for major jet and turboprop aircraft manufacturers and has held executive positions including CEO and Member of Executive Board for different aircraft and simulator companies. Jean-Michel began his career working for a major European airline before joining the French Aviation Authorities to manage ab initio and advanced training. Throughout his career, Jean-Michel has flown for many different airlines and is current on the A320, 330, 350 and 380.

Captain Stéphan Labrucherie, AMFTA Director & Chairman, Airbus Head of Flight Training Worldwide - Stéphan started his career flying on different turboprop operations. He flew for French charter operators on the B737 and A330 before joining two national carriers in the United Arab Emirates and China flying the A320 and A330. Stéphan joined Airbus in 2011 as TRI on the A320/A330 and became Head of TRIs and Head of Airbus Europe Training Centre prior to his current position.

Susannah Crabol, AMFTA Secretary - Susannah co-created AMFTA in collaboration with Jean-Michel. Susannah has over 20 years’ experience in the aeronautical industry, in flight training, as well as the maintenance and engineering world. She has held various positions in Airbus Services such as Head of Europe & Americas (Contracts & Warranty), Marketing, and Strategic Portfolio Management.

Mark Albert, Director, Business and Program Management, Commercial Training Solutions, Boeing Global Services, AMFTA Board Director & Treasurer - Mark is responsible for the 777X training program and development and implementation of Boeing’s CBTA program. Mark is also the President and Chief Operating Officer of Boeing US Training and Flight Services. Mark has led the implementation of training programs including the 737NG, 787 and 737MAX.

Jin Yibin, Chief Engineer of Aircraft Operation Safety, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China - Mr. Jin is PIC of ARJ21, B737, B747, A320, A330. Before joining COMAC, he worked in Air China as Deputy Manager, Manager of Flight Fleet, Deputy General Manager of General Flight Fleet, General Manager of Flight Technical Management Department and General Manager of Zhejiang Branch.

Capt. Fabiano Cypel, Embraer Flight Crew Training Manager, AMFTA Board Director - After 10 years flying B737 and EMB145, Fabiano worked as a TRI as well. Since 2006, Fabiano has travelled around the globe as an OEM instructor pilot supporting many customers that introduced Embraer E145, E1 and E2 jets into their networks. With this broad view in respect to ICAO, FAA and EASA different training requirements and more than 5000 hours of instruction time, Fabiano has been appointed team leader for pilots and cabin crew training at Embraer.